When Honesty Collides with Goodness

Last time I shared about the queries from our adolescent kids, and it may have raised some questions.  This time I will share some things I have learned after much reflection, (and as always, feel free to disagree).  I am a bit conflicted about writing this post, and now understand so much more why some issues in the adoption realm are rarely discussed at all.  Since my own three are grown and settled, and we have freely dialogued about their own narratives, (and truthfully so), I write this confident that they are not wondering what I have kept from them (the answer is nothing). However I have many young adopted friends, and some I understand, like to read my stuff.  For them, I have asked their moms to read first and take any steps that they feel are necessary (such as blocking access to my blog).

I have talked to so many young moms throughout the years, and find them to be earnest, honest, and desirous of answering their child’s questions, even if the answers are a bit hard to hear. I am committed to honesty as well, therefore it may surprise some of you to know that I am not an advocate of full disclosure in all cases.  This goes against the grain for those of us who feel that honesty is the best policy, and or who feel sneaky when withholding information from those who ask, especially from loved ones, the IRS, or the nuns.

I will give some examples of things that I as a mom might not disclose, in case you are now wondering.  However before I do, I want to share a funny clip from one of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan, to help set the stage.  Here is the script posted on Facebook as the Joke of the Day:

“My eye doctor told me this, I’m not making this up. He goes, ‘You know you have one eye set a little bit higher than your other eye?’ ‘No, I didn’t know that.’ He goes, ‘It’s no big deal; it doesn’t affect your vision or anything. I just thought you might want to be self-conscious for the rest of your life.'”

This cute sketch is a great way to illustrate a guiding principle for sharing things with your adopted children.  My own guiding principle, put as simply as I can is to refrain from sharing things that would most likely hurt your kids, but in no way help them.    I don’t mean important things that would have a bearing on their mental or physical health, or on their own reproductive matters, such as genetic anomalies. Moreover I don’t mean things that may need to be shared later, when the child is a mature adult.  No, I am talking about things that no one ever needs to know, and that do not add anything positive or helpful to the person’s bio.  What are those things you may wonder?  I think there are some clues in the language. If the narrative includes tequila, garbage cans, or going mad, feel free to hold back.

For example if a conception took place in a drunken stupor, I for one cannot find a good reason that a child would ever need or want to know that. (A pregnancy in such a condition however might be another matter due to related problems that often surface, and would be sure to eventually be mentioned by clinicians.)  I know of kids who were told such information by their birth mothers, and it has been a source of great pain, anger, and bewilderment as to why the child really needed to know that.  Perhaps it was a way for these birth mothers to “come clean,” but I have witnessed the pain that this type of knowledge has brought. Perhaps one of my thoughtful readers will enlighten me on the benefit of knowing this type of information, and if so, I welcome the comments of course.

My second example is about narratives of those children who had been abandoned and who were “found.”   While it may be OK to share that someone was found in a safe place,  carefully wrapped, warm, fed, and well-cared for, it is quite a heavy burden to tell a child that they were found in a trash can, or a dumpster, as this may have a devastating impact. (Indeed, as I write this I am hard-pressed to think of an instance when this knowledge would have a good effect.) I have asked myself if I were found in such circumstances, would I really want or need to know that?  I mean, isn’t being abandoned (even in a sacrificial way) a heavy enough burden for this person?  Why pile on?  And what if this gets out to playmates,  cousins, etc.  It is not far-fetched to think that some immature person might use this as a cruel epithet when in need of an insult with an especially strong sting.  (For those younger parents or parents-to-be who cannot believe that kids can be that cruel to other kids, see me after class.)  I think some young parents are not fully aware of the impact this can have on their child and share it for dramatic effect (not in a show-off way, but in an amazed and grateful to God way).  However I have cautioned such young moms to rethink this part of the narrative and not to share it with anyone, but to keep it in the protective force field of parental love.  The question I ask is usually, How will that help your child to know that? or Why would it be important for a person to know that particular fact?

An additional example has to do with sex that may have been transacted as a business venture, if you get my drift.  It seems enough to know that one’s birth mom had the love and maturity to give their child a chance at a normal life.  I am not sure how adding her complete resume would in any way enhance the life and times of an adopted child.  Perhaps you will argue that truth for its own sake is justification enough.  Again, for me, I cannot imagine how knowing that would not have had a negative impact on my life.

There are more examples to be sure, but some of them might better be placed in the category of things that may need to be shared, but not yet, (and this can be accomplished  without all the gory details.) As you can imagine, these items include mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, rape, and incest.  These are most complicated and need to be dealt with very carefully.  I have little first hand knowledge of these things from the adoption standpoint, but I would still stick to my guiding principle: to refrain from sharing what would most definitely hurt them, but in no way help them.  Sad to say, knowledge of some of these things, while hurting them, may need to be shared for their own welfare, healing, or future relationships.

A verse from the  4th chapter of Philippians come to mind as I draw to a close:

  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Indeed some might say that whatever is true = the whole truth and nothing but the truth, however consider the following questions. Isn’t it a mercy of God that He reveals just enough of our sin to get our attention, and draw us to Him?  Are you like me, grateful that He does not feel the need to show it all to me?  That would be too heavy of a burden for this at-times weary pilgrim.

And bringing it home to us mere earthlings, do we need to share each of our sins, in the name of honesty, with our spouses, roommates, siblings, friends?  Is full disclosure  about who we coveted, despised, or day-dreamed about a wise course?  But of course we can tell it all to God who will not be shocked, hurt, or disillusioned (because as my friend Mike Gaudet wisely says, “He never was illusioned with us.”)  Don’t you love that?

I feel so heavy of heart to write this post, as it may bring a tear or two to some out there who are struggling, wondering, or even waiting.  My goal is to ask those parents out there, those earnest, loving, yet at times naive people, to consider judicious and cautious sharing of knowledge with those entrusted to us.  I do not mean to imply that deceitfulness is my modus operandi, but rather, if there is a heavy burden to be carried, I would rather my husband and I carry it with God’s grace, rather than put an undue burden on my child or any child.  In the future I plan to write a post to adopted kids which I hope will bring comfort to these children, many of whom I know and love, and even to the ones I don’t know (but would love if I did).

About allthingslizard

I have done just about everything I have always wanted to do: worked as a campus minister, became a teacher, married a nice man named Joe (36 years now), adopted three wonderful kids and watched them reach adulthood, lived overseas, earned my Ph.D., and recently became an RN. However the only thing I have not yet done is to write about my life's journey, even though I have written a lot of personal poems, mom notes to my kids, academic papers, and thousands of letters. I have a lot to write about because all those things I have done were accomplished on smooth roads with beautiful vistas, as well as on scary, twisted, hurricane alleys. Maybe you will find something here that you can relate to. And yes, I know that a preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with.
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3 Responses to When Honesty Collides with Goodness

  1. Kim Smith says:

    Liz, this is so well said. Controversial? Hard to discuss (especially in a public forum)? Yes and yes. But, still, so well said. While some may disagree with specifics of WHAT is shared with an adopted child at what point in their lives, I cannot imagine that anyone can dispute well your thesis.

    This fall, while working on our dossier, Patrick and I had occasion to discuss the role of truth in adoption–I’d been reading some recommended adoption literature that sparked this very topic you write about. We’re ‘truth’ people. But when we really thought it, through, we came to some of the same conclusions that you did. And while we won’t know much at all of our daughter’s story, and as much as I hate that fact, I do understand that on some levels, that may be for her protection. (Perhaps even from her well-meaning-truth-speaking-parents?)

    Even in my response now, I realize there is so much on this one topic that is yet unsaid–and that we haven’t even properly considered, but I DO appreciate being able to read, think, and talk about it on THIS side of adoption. When our little one arrives, and then throughout her life, I’m sure that we’ll continue to encounter this and many more issues in a much less theoretical way! Thanks for sharing your heart–I appreciate that it’s from someone much further down that road.

  2. Thank you dear Kim! I try to share what I wish I had “back in the day.” Thanks for sharing as well, and helping all of us to figure things out, even as we stumble around in the dark at times.

  3. Karen Workman says:

    Liz, it’s always a blessing to read your posts, especially about adoption. We have recently been dealing with some of these issues as Laura has been asking so many questions and grieving for her life without her birth parents. Daily wisdom is our prayer 🙂

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